Few albums are as capable of transporting you to a whole new world as Prince’s iconic 1984 record Purple Rain. While other albums from previous decades had achieved the effect by following some kind of transcendental roadmap, the place Prince took his audience was unlike anything the world had ever experienced.
Prince, instead of going to some hippie Mekkah, created a concept album that transported its listener to the mauve and murky back streets of America’s glittering cities. It’s what makes ranking the songs on this seminal record from worst to best incredibly difficult—but we’ve done it anyway.
To celebrate the release of the album, a record that arrived on shelves on June 25th, 1984, we thought we would rank the tracks from Prince’s legendary album from worst to best. Or perhaps, more accurately, we should say from least favourite to best.
We will also add the one glaring caveat we can hear you screaming through your screens: Purple Rain was a concept album. That means that the songs are, more so than any other album, meant to be enjoyed as one piece in its entirety. However, as nobody listens to albums anymore, we thought we’d give you a range to begin with.
Since starting his career in the late seventies, Prince had already achieved some success with his albums For You, Prince, Dirty Mind, Controversy and 1999. But Prince was still largely regarded as a niche artist, though the latter helped a lot, within the industry, championing two main motifs in his songs; sex and religion. Purple Rain would see Prince Rogers Nelson kick it up a notch.
He not only prepared for a new album but was the integral man in the middle of the Purple Rain feature film. He was writing script ideas and songs from 1983 and with the release of the album in 1984, he confirmed his icon status.
Delve deep into the record, below.
Ranking Prince’s Purple Rain from worst to best:
9. ‘The Beautiful Ones’
The third track on the album is also one of three that Prince handled entirely on his own. When we say ‘entirely’ we mean it, the singer took up roles producing, composing, arranging and performing on the track.
Origins of who ‘The Beautiful Ones’ has Prince centre on two women. Firstly, the twin sister of Wendy Melvoin, Susannah, whom Prince was trying to woo away from her then-boyfriend. Later in 2015, the other target of Prince’s affections was Denise Matthews, AKA Vanity. Let the debate rage on while we boogie down.
8. ‘Computer Blue’
One track that has connections for the artist beyond the film was ‘Computer Blue’. Prince’s father, John L. Nelson, has been credited with the guitar solo as it was based on a piano instrumental the two of them had written together.
In the film Purple Rain, the song represents Prince’s character’s anger towards the growing relationship between the characters played by Morris Day and Apollonia the latter of whom he desires. For the ultimate Prince move, the singer then performs the track in front of the pair and upsets them.
7. ‘Darling Nikki’
Another track from Prince’s extensive catalogue saw the mercurial artist take hold of the reins fully on this number. If you’ve always felt that ‘Darling Nikki’ felt out of place on the album then you’d be right. Far from the polished and preened pop of the rest of the record, ‘Darling Nikki’ is raw and rough-edged.
The track has another claim to fame, it instigated the creation of the famous ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker warning parents of its explicit nature. The song centred on the “sex fiend” Nikki and also speaks of masturbation.
6. ‘Take Me With U’
The final US single to be released from the record, ‘Take Me With U’ bounces in with a degree of trepidation before the poptastic duet opens up between Prince and Apollonia Kotero.
We’ve put it a little further up the list because after the craziness of the opening song, ‘Take Me With U’ works as the perfect palette cleanser for the rest of the record. It’s simple in some ways yet deliciously dense in others. It’s a gem.
5. ‘Baby I’m A Star’
One of the few songs not to be specifically written for the film’s soundtrack, ‘Baby I’m A Star’ was composed by Prince back in 1981 with a new version being recorded with The Revolution for the new album back in 1983.
The track is a pivotal moment in the film and record as it lets Prince signal his intent for super-stardom, the chorus says: “You might not know it now, baby, but I are — I’m a star. I don’t wanna stop ’til I reach the top.” Perfectly fitting with Prince’s then more humble status in 1981.
It’s since featured in countless live performances for Prince including his more than memorable Super Bowl Half Time Show.
4. ‘I Would Die 4 U’
While the upcoming tracks may well be the some of the more musically sound or highly favoured, but there’s something about Prince’s track ‘I Would Die 4 U’ that just makes us happy.
One reason we love it so much is the seemingly duplicitous nature of the lyrics. While on the face of it, the song is another pop tune about love. When you dig a little deeper, it appears as though the track mirrors Jesus’ message: “U — I would die 4 U, darling if U want me 2,” as well as, “If you’re evil I’ll forgive you”, “all I really need to know is that U believe,” and, “I’m your messiah and you’re the reason why.”
Whether it’s about love between two people or between yourself and a deity, then chances are when you hear ‘I Would Die 4 U’, you can’t help but move your feet and get out your seat.
3. ‘When Doves Cry’
As Prince pursued his very own version of The Beatles A Hard Day’s Night with the album, ‘When Doves Cry’ was the standout moment of the album sales-wise. It was the biggest selling single of 1984 in the US.
“Nobody believed that this was going to be such a catalyst for the kind of success that it had,” author Alan Light says. “To be able to do something that’s that experimental and that bold, and have it be that popular and connect that universally, it’s just unbelievable. It takes an artist of that magnitude to be able to pull that off.”
Here is where Prince shows his swagger. His swagger with singing, performing and his guitar work. Everything screamed ‘Prince’ and the fact he did it quickly to fill a spot on the album is truly unbelievable.
2. ‘Let’s Go Crazy’
Now that’s how you start an album. Begin with a faux-sermon and end with the kind of pumping party tune that has made Prince a permanent fixture on every DJ’s playlist. When it was released as a track it shot to number one and became Prince’s second chart-topper in the US.
As with much of this record, the song plays on the duality of sex and religion, perhaps in the most obvious of ways, and because of it, the track has a hazy edge that feels too tempting to not peer over.
The opening song of the album it’s guaranteed to get you excited as soon as the bouncing beat kicks in and Prince begins to let his hair down. The track chugs through the wall and begins a non-stop party train. Stay for the engrossing guitar solo at the end or be ready to be disappointed.
1. ‘Purple Rain’
Of course, we couldn’t avoid casting the obvious star as the main protagonist of this feature piece. The title track from the movie and album is a sprawling masterclass in not only vivid imagery or expert songmanship but a lesson in how to hold the attention of your audience—by composing one of the greatest rock ballads of all time.
Of the song’s construction, Prince was once quoted as saying: “When there’s blood in the sky = red and blue = purple… purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/god guide you through the purple rain.” Prince’s magnum opus was complete.
It has since gone on to typify everything that Prince did. Aside form the meticulous planning and construction that went into the song there was one final component that many people miss out on—belief. It was Prince’s belief in the project and his delivery of the songs that make this a classic album.